Can Walking Backward Actually Improve Your Health?
By: Matt Weik, BS, CSCS, CPT, CSN
Walking backward is the latest fitness trend that has been taking the fitness world by storm (no, I’m not joking, go look for yourself — it’s legit a thing right now).
While there’s nothing extremely difficult with walking backward, it is a unique technique used to improve your balance and footwork. It also strengthens the ankles, knees, and lower back, which can lead to greater stability in everyday movement. Also, research has been published showing that there are also health benefits associated with walking backward.
Again, it sounds far-fetched, but it’s the truth. Read on.
The ever-popular “Knees Over Toes Guy,” aka Ben Patrick, says, “On an anatomical level, what’s really happening when we go backward is that we’re stimulating stronger muscles and tendons in the areas which protect our knees, compared to forward!”
He also claims that sprinting or walking backward on the road or treadmill can be good for knee recovery. He says that using the treadmill when it is turned off, also known as the “deadmill,” is a beneficial way to do this innovative recovery session.
In this article, we will look at the benefits of walking backward and how it can help with overall health, weight loss, knee health, and more.
The Benefits of Walking Backward
For most of us, walking is something that we do on a regular basis. It does not require a conscious effort, but many of us forget the benefits of walking for our overall health (or simply moving more throughout the day, in general).
But what if we stop our body from being on auto-pilot mode to keep walking in a straight direction and challenge our brain and body to, instead, start walking backward? Let me preface that by saying you may want to do this as part of a workout and not while at school or walking around the office, as it may cause people to think you’re “not all there.”
But let’s jump into some of the benefits you can experience by walking backward.
1. Improve coordination
Do you have issues walking and chewing gum at the same time? Walking backward is an excellent exercise for improving your coordination. Since the body is moving in reverse, the muscles work against each other to stabilize themselves. This means that you have to work hard at coordinating your movements with each step you take.
The world-renowned sportswear brand Adidas claims that walking backward improves coordination. Besides going against your usual muscles for walking, your mind is also guiding you to walk backward. Hence, it also helps to improve your focus.
2. Reduce knee pain
Knee pain can be a real problem in your day-to-day activities. It may make you want to sit more and stop you from engaging in regular activities or exercise.
Walking backward is a great way to relieve knee pain. When you walk backward, you are stimulating stronger muscles and tendons in the areas that protect your knees. On an anatomical level, this does not happen when we walk forward. According to a study, reverse running decreased anterior knee pain compared to forward running.
Another study in 2019 evaluated 68 participants for over six weeks. The study’s main goal was to compare the effect of walking backward and walking forward in relation to knee pain and function in those with knee osteoarthritis. In addition to that, the study also evaluated the impact of walking backward and forward on quad muscle strength and performance.
The study revealed that the group walking backward experienced a better reduction in functional disability than the other group. The study also found that pain intensity had been lowered and leg muscle strength had improved for those who engaged in walking backward. Researchers believe this is because walking backward puts less strain on your knee joints than walking forward like normal.
Essentially, what the research found is that walking backward can be extremely beneficial for individuals with a knee injury, knee osteoarthritis, and pain in their knee joints. Something else you could try is walking backward while pulling a weighted sled for even more benefits.
3. Improve your cardiorespiratory health
Walking backward helps you increase your stride length and improve your cadence. This improves your oxygen efficiency, which is the amount of oxygen you use to perform a given task compared to the amount of oxygen available in the air. This means that when walking backward, you’re using more oxygen than when you walk normally and therefore require less time to complete the same distance.
One study looked into the effect of running and walking backward training programs to look at the impact it had on the cardiorespiratory system. At the conclusion of the study, participants experienced a significant decrease in oxygen consumption during both backward and forward exercises on a treadmill.
Moreover, their predictive VO2 max values for the 20-meter shuttle test had improved dramatically. Researchers also noticed that participants had significant changes in their body composition. The young women in the group reduced their body fat percentage by 2.4%. Does that make you want to start walking backward yet?
Another study found similar results where backward walking along with running may improve cardiorespiratory fitness and change our body composition.
4. Aid in weight loss
Did you know that walking backward burns more calories than walking forwards? It’s true. In fact, it burns around 40% more calories per minute.
According to the Compendium of Physical Activities, a brisk normal walk at 3.5 mph is around 4.3 METs (metabolic equivalents), whereas walking backward at the same speed is 6.0 METs. Higher METs mean higher caloric expenditure. Higher caloric expenditure can lead to greater weight loss.
In addition, this metabolic demand increases even more when walking backward up an incline. Walking backward at a 5% grade is around 8.0 METs. You can do HIIT (high-intensity interval training) in a low-impact way by walking backward uphill. It’s a win-win!
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